Sunday, December 12, 2010


Tom Stoppard is a brilliant playwright, but sometimes he can't tell the difference between a play and a lecture. Hapgood's ratio of physics versus theatre is unfortunately skewed toward the former, and while Stoppard's conceit of having the plot reflect the physics is strong, its execution is confusing. Hapgood is an iconoclastic spy for England. She uses the dedicated phone line to the prime minister to talk with her son; she has sex with other agents (English and otherwise); and she does what she wants when she wants. In Hapgood she is faced with a dilemma. A double (or is it triple, or is it quadruple?) agent has given secret information to the Russians. Has Kerner, the physicist and Russian agent turned English agent (and father of her son), been turned again? What has Ridley been up to? What about the twin Russian agents? And, also, will Hapgood find true love and settle down? Stoppard draws smart and interesting parallels between the behavior of light waves/particles and the behavior of secret agents, but the play ultimately comes across as dry, with too much stuff going on--too many twists and turns, too much physics, too many lectures--and not enough humanity. The Phoenix Ensemble does a valiant job presenting this challenging play, and succeeds intermittently. Joe Menino as Kerner is charming and presents scientific ideas clearly while sounding like an actual person. Jason O'Connell and Craig Smith also bring much to the production. Elise Stone, in the pivotal role of Hapgood, gives a surface-level performance, with little variety to line readings (speaking fast does not a character make) and too much "matter-of-fact-ness" to be real. As the other Hapgood, she denotes quirkiness by fluffing her hair, and fluffing her hair, and fluffing her hair. The direction by John Giampietro is good but he doesn't succeed in bringing a maximum level of clarity to the goings-on.

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